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St Andrew, Frenze
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St Andrew, Frenze
The heaviest snow in East Anglia that winter fell in early March. We had a new car to try out - we hadn't planned on this, but the previous one had died on the way back from Cambridge, the camshaft exploding into the engine and causing several thousand pounds worth of damage. After a few sleepless nights, we decided to cut our losses, and so here we were on an icy Sunday afternoon threading through wide flat fields to the hills near the border.
We parked near an old maltings which styled itself 'Diss Business Centre'. That town was just over the rise, but in fact we could have been miles away, in the middle of nowhere. There was no one about as we set off on foot along a track into the woods towards Frenze Hall.
The winter was at its barest. Although most of the snow had now melted, nothing had yet regrown after the winter silence. A few miserable birds chattered at us, a rabbit bolted. the coop coop of an occasional pheasant came from the copse. Eventually, the track came out into an empty farmyard, apparently abandoned, although the farm house was still occupied, and in one corner of the yard, on a rise behind an old wooden fence, sat the church of St Andrew, Frenze.
St Andrew is a curious looking structure. Effectively, it is just the small nave of a formerly longer church, propped up but still leaning all over the place. Obviously redundant, it is in the tender care of the Churches Conservation Trust (the key hangs outside the farmhouse door during daylight hours) and would just be a beautiful, unspoiled hidden corner of Norfolk if it were not for one very curious thing - this church has no less than seven figure brasses, more than just about any other church in East Anglia, as well as other memorial inscriptions. An extraordinary find in such a place.
They are all between eighteen and twenty-four inches tall. Mostly, they are to the Blenerhaysett, or Blennerhassett, family and their relatives - a most un-East Anglian name; in the Paston letters, Sir John scoffs that Ralph Blenerhaysett is a name to start a hare. They came from Cumbria, and were Lords of the Manor here. Six of the figures are still in situ on the floor. They are (top row above) vowess Joan Braham, died 1519, in cloak and girdle; Jane Blenerhaysett, 1521, in kennel headdress; John Blenerhaysett, her husband, also 1521, in armour, with sword; the already mentioned Ralph Blenerhaysett, 1475, in full mail. The first and last in the second row are an exquisite shroud brass to Thomas Hobson, and Anne Duke, also in a kennel headress. Other inscriptions also survive, and there are replicas of others on the wall. As I say, extraordinary stuff.
Even if there were no brasses, you would want to come here. Although the porch, font and a few other features survive from medieval times, the overwhelming flavour of the inside is of the 17th century - a silvery white family pew faces across to the contemporary pulpit, clearly by the same hand.
Everything is simple, but touched down the long years - the plain altar, bearing a medieval mensa, is typical of this. Boards from a royal arms hang above the south door - were they once overpainted with something else? There are two piscinas set into windowsills, one each side of the nave. Two smug little monkeys on a single bench stare out at all of this. What a special place.
Simon Knott, March 2005
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